Stadium plan: Bad for city, worse for Downtown
Last weekend, hundreds of people descended into the World Trade Center site to mark the symbolic beginning of the construction of the Freedom Tower the first commercial building that will rise from the site. All told, the W.T.C. is expected to get back about 10 million square feet of office space, roughly the same amount that was destroyed on Sept. 11.
The financing and demand to build those offices is too uncertain for the city to proceed with all aspects of its grandiose plan to develop the West Side rail yards with a stadium, about 28 million square feet of office space nearby, an expanded Javits Convention Center, and an extended 7 subway line. The plan is dependent on eventually constructing the offices.
In addition, the West Side plan includes using an estimated $350 million in money generated from Battery Park City land. Long ago, the city committed to using this money to build affordable housing throughout the five boroughs and just because past mayors facing budget difficulties were able to negotiate loopholes in the deal, does not mean that the current mayor should keep jumping through them. Using B.P.C. money on a plan that hurts the neighborhood and the rest of Lower Manhattan would be the ultimate abuse of these funds.
Across the street from ground zero, 7 W.T.C., which also collapsed on 9/11, is under construction and a 2.3-million-square-foot headquarter building for Goldman Sachs in Battery Park City is being planned.
There are no tenants yet for the Freedom Tower and certainly none for the four other offices that someday may be built at the W.T.C.
Anyone who cares about this city and Lower Manhattan hopes that the demand to build the planned office space at the site returns quickly. The more the area looks like a vibrant commercial site that also pays honor to the victims, and the less it looks like an empty pit, the better.
Given developer Larry Silversteins legal setbacks on the insurance front, the mayor and governor should be doing all they can to shore up the financial underpinnings of Lower Manhattan redevelopment, rather than redirecting public resources and focus away from Lower Manhattan to a gigantic West Side project.
Mayor Mike Bloomberg and Dep. Mayor Dan Doctoroff continue to insist that the funding streams for the West Side plan and Lower Manhattan are separate and dont compete with each other, but there is ample reason to wonder.
Last week, Andrew Alper, Bloombergs economic development president, told the City Councils select committee on Lower Manhattan redevelopment that he wasnt sure if Downtown would be able to use all of the remaining Liberty Bonds within the next five years. The federal bond program was intended to help Downtown, and the city has been the driving force behind shifting the aid to other parts of the city.
Meanwhile, some of the citys numbers on the stadium are questionable. Newsday recently reported that the New York Jets intend to pay for its $800 million share of the stadium costs with tax-free bonds. That means that the city-state estimate that we the taxpayers will only pay $600 million to build the stadium is too low. Tax-free bonds add to the public costs.
The Jets and the city claim 70 percent of the fans will use public transportation to get to the games even though the stadium would be adjacent to a highway and at least 15 minutes away from all but one subway line.
The extension of the 7 line and the northern expansion of the Javits center have widespread support in the residential and business communities in Chelsea and Clinton and are ideas well worth strong consideration.
The stadium will create traffic problems and is opposed by many in the community. We have serious doubts about whether it will be used by the convention center as often as the city claims. The International Olympic Committee has ranked us fourth among the remaining cities hoping to get the Summer Games in 2012.
The West Side stadium and office plan is a bold idea whose time has not come. It is too tied up with Doctoroffs Olympic dreams and poses a threat to Downtown redevelopment. It should not be encouraged until Lower Manhattans future is more secure.